“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see.” Alexandra K. Trenfor
PEF’s second Policy Fellows cohort recently completed their 18-month program, designed to prepare teachers to be leaders and to support them in driving positive change in education policy. The program provided teachers opportunities to engage with legislators, policy makers, business & education leaders. They also delved into social issues outside of schools, which directly affect students and families in Hamilton County. Teachers worked on honing their voice to be an advocate for themselves, students, and fellow teachers. The program is also designed to develop a strong foundation in the needs of their local communities, historical context, current policy initiatives + media training, as well as building a professional network + platform for student-focused advocacy.
Throughout the program, teachers had the opportunity to meet people and develop experiences that will continue to inform their voice and opinion. The last six months focused on the Fellows' advocacy project and experiences, such as SCORE’S Day on the Hill in Nashville, TN. Participants benefited from these professional developments to expand their policy footprint and improve education. Teachers also developed an appreciation for the complexities of education policy and learned critical advocacy skills throughout their cohort’s journey.
During their final meeting at the end of April, the Fellows took time to reflect on their overall experience in the program, as well as how they will grow as an agent for change + how the program will affect them moving forward. The cohort learned that while they can advocate for policy change on their own, there is more impact when they do so as a group. “It’s going to take everyone to help education move forward,” said Walker Valley High’s Drew Akins. “There’s only so much change that can happen through one person, but when a group like this gets together and makes an emphasis to make change, we can do that. That’s a really cool part of this experience.” Akins also related his experience to another PEF program. “It’s really similar to Teacherpreneur. Through Teacherpreneur, that was the first time in my teaching experience that I felt like a teacher. From that, it’s revamped my passion in the classroom. That’s what I’ve gained from two programs at PEF.”
Last February, the cohort had the opportunity to meet with legislators at SCORE'S Day on the Hill in Nashville. Participants gained knowledge in understanding who controls the different facets of education policy at the local level and who to contact if they have questions. Several teachers reflected on the positive experience from that trip. “They really wanted to hear what was going on in Hamilton County,” shared Orchard Knob Elementary’s Tracy Davis. “That means a lot, because conversations do stick.” Brainerd High's Keunta Graham and Arianna Gladney also had similar thoughts about the visit. Graham shared, “On the Day on the Hill, they were very receptive to what I was saying." Understanding what policy is and being able to advocate for students are concepts Graham values highly. “Day on the Hill really opened my eyes to see the processes going on within policy,” said Gladney. “I think this experience has given me the confidence to step into that, but also to just have that passion for what I do in my class every day.”
For the program overall, a key takeaway for teachers was learning viewpoints of their fellow teachers through a different lens. “With this group, we were able to share and get different perspectives, and that was very beneficial to me,” shared Washington Alternative Learning Center’s La Sun Johnson. “This is a very good group, and we are versatile and come from various backgrounds and various parts of the community.” The group also values that they can rely on each other as resources now and in the future. “One of the biggest things I've learned in the last six months is that you have to be willing to build bridges with people,” shared East Side Elementary’s Giselle Palmer. “You can find something that you agree with, and then work together towards something that you both have as a goal.” PEF’s Director of Innovative Learning, Michael Stone, also emphasized this point, sharing that Policy Fellows “brings enlightening viewpoints to the table, and that component is critical to the learning phase of this work.”
The cohort has developed a strong bond over the past year and a half, as they frequently voiced praise for their fellow teachers. “I know that I can contact any of the Fellows in our cohort and receive an honest, heartfelt answer to questions that I may have in the future,” shared Orchard Knob Elementary’s Lori Cleveland. The group has much respect for one another. “It’s inspiring to sit next to people who not only give their whole working day to their students, but then also come in during the evenings and dedicate their free time to advocate for them,” said Middle Valley Elementary’s Donavan Davis. “That inspires me, seeing these educators giving 100%.”
Throughout the Policy Fellows journey, it is clear that not only are teachers eager for opportunities to engage with policy, but that civic leaders and policymakers are receptive to teacher-voice in their own work. The program has demonstrated the power a group of educators can have when given the opportunity to network, both with one another and with community leaders. Another goal of this program is to prepare teachers to continue being leaders in their chosen areas well beyond the completion of the Fellowship. By listening to educators and providing them the necessary advocacy skills + platform to use their voice, they have sharpened their leadership qualities and can continue to grow their network of collaborative policy leaders.
Policy Fellows teacher leaders dedicated countless hours to learning more about policy change. We are proud of how each member has become a stronger advocate for their school and for their community. Congrats PEF Policy Fellows! We hope you continue to foster the working relationships you have made and maintained throughout your journey in this year’s cohort.